Wednesday, July 07, 2010

"Christian" education?

Here's a scary video, its a clip of a biology class in a supposedly secular Southern USA school. You never know how stage managed these things are but if it's true it shows a quite breath-taking level of ignorance of basic on the topics of evolution and natural selection. Clearly not knowing something is not a crime and so its hard to blame the students, the scary part is that the teacher seems unable or unwilling to tackle simple questions or to actually do his job i.e. teach Biology and inform his students when they are demonstrably wrong.

The young girl in the picture seems incredulous that something as complex as a human being could evolve from something as simple as a single cell; what she clearly fails to appreciate is that she did it herself, and it only took 9 months, we all start as single cells. The boy who thinks (his) God put all the animals here expressly for our survival (as it says in the Bible) needs to have retro-viruses pointed out to him and the chap at the end who thinks black people evolved from white people probably also thinks the Flintstones was a documentary.

Religion, harmless?


Anonymous said...

Hi, Steve.
I think everyone should keep an open mind and not dismiss any theory out of hand. Creationism presupposes a creator, and while his (its?) existence remains unproven, creationism may seem a rather unlikely theory.
However, Darwin's theories are far from proven, either. We do know that certain aspects of the genetic make-up of existing creatures do evolve over long periods of time, according to changing environments. This in itself though does not prove that the whole of "life" started from a single point, at a single moment in time.
I have often wondered, for example, if life is supposed to have started from a particular mix of inanimate compounds in the earth/sea somehow coming together and becoming cellular/"alive", then why do we not keep on observing this phenomenon happening repeatedly, within the soil (or the sea)? Did that first "spark" (of the animate arising from the inanimate) only ever happen on one specific occasion, which has never since been repeated? I find that idea really odd, given that life on the planet is so voracious (if that's the right word). Moss and lichen springs up on any old stonework. Leave a ploughed field and within a year, it's covered in weeds. The environmental conditions on the earth are so abundantly predisposed to the development of pre-existing life, so is it not fair to suppose that the environment is also naturally predisposed towards the continual spontaneous creation of life from the natural elements? It apparently happened once, so why do we not continue to observe it happening to this very day?

Chairman Bill said...

Anonymous: Because the conditions when life first arose were vastly different to those today today, precisely because life caused today's conditions. There are no primordial soups anymore - but there are in space.

Also, if any proto-life materialised today, it would be snapped up as food immediately by the plethora of current life and wouldn't have a chance.

Steve Borthwick said...


Many thanks for sharing your views, you probably won't be surprised but I disagree.

It seems reasonable to me that we absolutely *should* dismiss attempted explanations for things that have NO EVIDENCE, until that evidence is forthcoming. Creationism (or ID) is no stronger than the idea of four bodily humours or heliocentrism in this regard i.e. an early attempt at explaining how things work that everyone on the planet believed for thousands of years but as we have now figured out plainly wrong, it is most certainly not a "theory" in the scientific sense.

Evolution has mountains (literally) of evidence for it, nothing has ever been found or discovered in 400+ years of science that contradicts evolution, quite simply it is a fact. However you are incorrect in your assertion that evolution says everything must have arisen from a single origin; it does not. Darwin himself thought there may have been several such sources. We will probably never know for sure however this has no bearing on the efficacy of the supporting evidence, it's simply an interesting question.

If someone disagrees that evolution is a fact then I think it's fair that the onus of proof is on them; i.e. they need to show why they disagree. Saying "it might not be true" or "we don't know everything" is an inadequate response simply because we can say that about anything (fairies, unicorns, green monsters on Mars etc.) such statements sweep aside the vast quantities of interlocking and supporting evidence for the theory giving no weight to it, this is a falacy, and is attempting to impose a philosophical position onto reality. Like asserting you will win the lottery simply because you really, really want to, it simply has no utility.

So, you say that Darwin's theories are far from proven, please explain why you think this, preferably with supporting evidence that contradicts the theory of evolution. Or (as I suspect is the case) admit that you are simply repeating a well worn fallacy of creationists and apologists everywhere which is simply an argument from ignorance and/or incredulity.

G said...


There *is* a difference here I think. A fertilized human egg turning into an adult human is programmed to do so. But the single prehistoric protozoa or whatever didn't have humans, chimps and Paul the German octopus programmed into it. It had potential, but it's a cumulative process of random mutation + natural selection rather than a programmed development.

The important thing, and the thing that causes the incredulity, is the effect of time. Considering we think it's a long time till Christmas, we can just about grasp 100 years - 3,4,5 or however many times we've been around - but 1000 years is a stretch, 10,000 or 100,000,000 or a billion might as well be the same number. But given enough time, water can drill a hole in a stone and a single celled organism can produce the children that end up producing Jeremy Clarkson.

Anonymous said...

Hi again, Steve.
When you replied " I suspect.." - Yes, of course, I admit that I am bringing my baggage of preconceptions with me, as would anyone. (Your own preconceptions are at the very forefront of all your posts here, so please allow me mine). However, I do not disbelieve outright in evolution, I'm just rather sceptical, and I need more answers.

One of the biggest problems with areas of science such as evolution (and "global warming" too) is that, unlike the science of, say, jet engines (where, even though I might not understand the theories, I can clearly see them proven before my eyes when I watch a jet aeroplane take off), I cannot possibly see the proof of Darwin's theories enacted in front of my eyes. I would need to have a lifespan of 100,000 years to do so!
Therefore, believing in those theories essentially reduces to a question of blindly trusting in the words of others. A bit like religion, wouldn't you say?

You don't believe in Christianity, because the words of those old priests does not translate into concrete irrefutable proof before your eyes. So why should I believe Darwin's theories on much the same basis? There may well be a huge stack of circumstantial evidence which seems to indicate Darwin was correct, but that is still not proof.

Chairman Bill said "there are no primordial soups anymore". OK, but since when did that stop us? There are also no 'big bangs' anymore, yet scientists are attempting to recreate the same conditions within the Large Hadron Collider. If they can do that, then surely it is within the grasp of current human technology to attempt to recreate the "primordial soup" conditions, and thus to recreate animate life from the natural inanimate elements? If we can map the entire human genome, this should not prove too difficult for us in 2010. Or at least, we should be "almost there".

Steve Borthwick said...

G, I agree that embryo development is not the same as evolution but it's a good analogy that shows how complex things can develop from simple things without the intervention of a guiding hand, which is what I was getting at.

Evo-Devo is a fascinating new subject though, perhaps you could also make the analogy that if DNA is a "program" in the IT sense then embryonic development is the same as running it for the first time; evolution would be analogous to the development process that created the program in the first place.

I don't know why more creationists don't latch onto Jeremy Clarkson, he might just be the evidence against human evolution they're looking for, at least as it applies to brain development anyway... ;)

Lisa said...

What an embarassment of a video. They sound like imbeciles, and I hate when people like this are somehow presented as emblematic of american thinking.

"Basically, it's [evolution] not been proven." Huh?? Unlike your godthink, which has been proven?

"We had to have been put here by some supernatural thing?" -- Those of us with IQs in the positive integers call that assuming the consequent.

And to the "teacher" who can't disallow differing viewpoints - the point is not to reject ideas that are different, but to teach rigorous thinking. Any viewpoints which have no evidence can be allowed as conjecture, possible theories which need to be tested, etc. But all viewpoints are not equal, otherwise we could argue that maths classes should allow all sorts of sums as the answer to a singular question, since we should all have open minds.

Lisa said...

P.S. I'm pretty sure "secular Southern USA school" is an oxymoron.

Steve Borthwick said...

Hi anon,

I agree we all have preconceptions but that doesn't alter the evidence does it.

That's the great thing about evidence, in the case of evolution and global warming there is plenty, in the case of God(s) there is none. So whilst I entirely agree we are all free to believe what we wish; on matters of fact, like evolution, those "beliefs" have no bearing on what is true.

You say that you only have "words" to believe when it comes to evolution, this is not true. Go look at some fossils, look at the geographical distribution of species, look at the morphological similarities between species, all of this you can do without reference to "words" all of it inexplicable without evolution. I fear you are choosing to ignore the evidence because it doesn't support your preconceptions; if evidence were uncovered tomorrow that refuted evolution (like a fossil rabbit in pre-Cambrian rocks) I would change my position on it; what would it take to change yours?

You don't need to live 100,000 years to see evolution happening; there are many documented examples of where it's been observed directly both in the lab and in the wild.

Craig Venter has created a living Bacteria from 4 test tubes of chemicals, it's been done? Although what bearing this has on evolution is not clear to me; Abiogenesis (or the origin of life) has nothing to do with evolution it's a separate branch of science with it's own theories.

You use the word "proof" but ask yourself is there such a thing as absolute proof of anything?, and if there is what characteristics of that thing would be different from the theory of evolution?

PS. You didn't answer my question regarding what's wrong (specifically) with the theory of Evolution?